South Africa is the future of comedy | So says Loyiso Gola (who just happens to be from there)

South Africa is the future of comedy

So says Loyiso Gola (who just happens to be from there)

South Africa is where the best comedy will come from in the next ten years. I believe this sincerely. 

And yes, I might have a bias – and perhaps a direct benefit – from this seemingly outrageous statement.

But I have been to tons of festivals in the last five years watching and performing stand-up comedy around the world, and I’d say that comics in South Africa match up in funniness with the best on the globe.

And since our first comedy export is competently hosting The Daily Show then we could reasonably conclude that maybe this is not an anomaly. There are heaps of acts in the ‘motherland’ who are dope.

The South African comedy industry is new and has only been totally inclusive for the last 20 years or so. But we were exposed to the same comedy that Americans and the British were exposed to for more than 30 years. 

I grew up watching the Simpsons, Beavis and Butthead, The Cosby Show, Family Matters, Full House. There is no American show I was not exposed to.

But, on the contrary, a lot of British people were NOT watching Seinfeld when they were growing up.  

When I am sitting backstage at a comedy club shooting the breeze I sometimes curiously ask British comedians if they know MacGyver or Dallas or NY Undercover. They have no clue what I am talking about, while the same can be said when Americans are quizzed about comedy in Britain in the 90s. Americans don’t care for The League Of Gentlemen, Mind Your Language or Keeping Up Appearances. 

On many occasions when I have accused Americans of not knowing anything about British comedy their rebuttal always is: ‘I know The Office.’ With South African comedians we grew up watching everything, and sometimes even Australian shows (not great exporters of culture those Australians). A crime-fighting kangaroo called Skippy is what The Ozzies gave us as kids. That was there answer to Doogie Howser I guess (shrugs)

Now because we in South Africa are exposed to every major English-speaking comedy market, we have an advantage of gauging what makes who laugh. 

Some American acts struggle to connect with the sensibilities of a British audience and vice-versa. South African comedians tend to not have this tentativeness toward a foreign audience. 

If there is wariness or jittery from a South African act it might be because of low self-confidence.  As a nation, we suffer from it and I include myself in this, it is just one of the many apartheid hangovers. But having a South African host The Daily Show has boosted confidence all round. I overcame this two years ago. 

To earn a living doing stand-up comedy in South Africa you have to know how to adapt your act. The country has 50 million people and 11 languages each with has its own culture, slang and sometimes music. On average people speak/understand about five languages. 

Imagine that Brighton spoke a different language from Liverpool (bad example, maybe). That means if you are doing a tour as Zulu speaking act from eThekwini, you have to switch it up when you get to Tswane or Cape Town.  You take a three-hour drive and you encounter not only a language difference but a slightly more traditional city with an adverse political view from yours. Adaptability is the name of the game in South Africa. 

Our history as a country shapes very unique opinions on very pertinent issues happening globally. I was in a comedy club a couple of months ago and I was watching one of my favourite acts, Celeste Ntuli, have a killer set. 

I don’t want to tell you the joke because she is still using it.  But she speaks of feminism in a way I had never heard of before in the global discourse. She jokingly stated in a complicated and nuanced way her anger at global 2019 feminism which left me pondering. Whether she did it wittingly or not, the bigger point I am trying to make here is that there are tons of these points of view in our comedy scene.

  Another piece of stand-up comedy work you have to see from South Africa is from John Vlismas with a show called The Good Racist. In a time where straight white male voices are not what the world want to hear, John has a fresh and honest voice that the world should hear and it’s from South Africa.

The world has not seen us yet because it is not looking in our direction. When it does it will be like the 1990ss when the Brazilians dominated football. 

Some of the funniest content I have ever viewed in my life were random things on social media which I accessed for free. A funny becomes increasingly accessible, comedy audiences are starting to find value in other commodities.  The audience is gravitating towards different views, style and possibly performance methods. Stand-up comedy fans will gravitate towards different points of view – which South Africa has loads of.

With our raw humour rooted in pain, our ability to adapt and our distinctive take on the global conversation there should be no stopping us.

Loyiso Gola’s new stand-up show Pop Culture will be at the Pleasance Dome during the  Edinburgh Fringe 

Published: 15 Jul 2019

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